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Middle East

Jordan's king sacks cabinet amid street protests

The king of Jordan today sacked his government in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-army general to form a new cabinet, the country's Royal Palace said.

King Abdullah's move came after thousands of Jordanians took to the streets - inspired by the regime change in Tunisia and the turmoil in Egypt - and called for the resignation of prime minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.

The Royal Palace said Mr Rifai's cabinet resigned today.

King Abdullah also nominated Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate.

The king instructed the PM-designate to "undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernisation and development in Jordan", a statement from the Royal Palace said.

Mr al-Bakhit previously served as Jordan's premier from 2005-07.

The king also stressed that economic reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making".

He asked Mr al-Bakhit for a "comprehensive assessment... to correct the mistakes of the past", but did not elaborate. The statement said King Abdullah also demanded an "immediate revision" of laws governing politics and public freedoms.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multi-party system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

But little has been done since. Although laws were enacted to ensure greater press freedom, journalists are still prosecuted for expressing their opinion or for comments considered slanderous of the king and the royal family.

Some gains have been made in women's rights, but many say they have not gone far enough. King Abdullah has pressed for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of "honour killings" but courts often hand down lenient sentences.

Still, Jordan's human rights record is generally considered a notch above that of Tunisia and Egypt. Although some critics of the king are prosecuted, they frequently are pardoned and some are even rewarded with government posts.

Mr al-Bakhit is a moderate politician, who served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel earlier this decade.

He holds similar views to King Abdullah in keeping close ties with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994 and strong relations with the United States, Jordan's largest aid donor and long-time ally.

In 2005, King Abdullah named Mr al-Bakhit as his prime minister days after a triple bombing on Amman hotels claimed by the al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

During his 2005-2007 tenure, Mr al-Bakhit - an ex-army major general and top intelligence adviser - was credited with maintaining security and stability following the attack, which killed 60 people and was labelled as the worst in Jordan's modern history.